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My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2022 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2022

Well hey there, it’s been a few months, so it’s time for another roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing recently. In addition to the stuff below, I have a few things in progress: the second season of Russian Doll, Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, and I just started dipping into Rebecca Woolf’s forthcoming memoir, All of This. Oh, and I’m listening to Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World on audiobook and the third season of Michael Lewis’ Against the Rules podcast. All always, don’t sweat the letter grades too much.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. This movie is a little bit of a miracle: action, comedy, heartfelt, and a little bit of a mess, all together in a perfect balance. This is the best movie I’ve seen in ages. (A+)

Encanto. The kids and I liked it fine. (B+)

The Expanse (season six). I’m going to miss spending time in this world with these people. (A-)

Matrix by Lauren Groff. Was delighted and moved by this work of historical fiction about Marie de France. (A)

Station Eleven. I loved the slow burn and resolution of this show. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect. Both actresses who played Kirsten were fantastic. (A/A+)

The Last Duel. Every director is entitled to their Rashomon I guess? And I’m not sure Matt Damon was the right choice here… (B)

Pig. Had no idea what to expect from this one. Even so, Taken + Truffle Hunters + Fight Club + Ratatouille was a surprise. (B+)

Strafford ice cream. This Black-owned dairy farm makes the richest, creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had. So glad I randomly bought a pint of it a few months ago…I’m never going back to anything else. (A)

Severance. Fantastic opening credits sequence and while I wasn’t as enamored as many were after the first few episodes, the show definitely grew on me. (A-)

My Brilliant Friend (season three). I don’t know why there’s no more buzz about this show. The acting, world-building, story, and Max Richter’s soundtrack are all fantastic. And the fight against fascism! (A)

The Gilded Age. Exactly what I wanted out of a period drama from the maker of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. (B+)

Exhalation. Second time through, this time on audiobook. I love these stories - Chiang is a genius. (A)

The Book of Boba Fett. This turned into season 2.5 of The Mandalorian and I am totally ok with that. (B+)

Other People’s Money podcast. As a snack-sized in-between season for his excellent Against the Rules podcast, Michael Lewis revisits his first book, Liar’s Poker, written about his experience working for Salomon Brothers in the 80s. (A-)

The King’s Man. Not as fun as the first movie but more fun than the second one? But they all could be better. (B)

Turning Red. I loved Domee Shi’s short film, Bao, and this film is similarly clever and heartfelt. (A-)

Drive My Car. Really appreciated the cinematography of this one; wish I could have seen it in the theater. (A-)

Jennifer Packer at The Whitney. I was unfamiliar with Packer’s work before seeing this exhibition, but I’m a fan now. (A-)

Licorice Pizza. I’m really flabbergasted at the two pointless racist scenes in this film. PT Anderson is a better filmmaker than this. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the rest of the film — the two leads are great. Can’t recommend it though. (D)

Death on the Nile. These movies are fun. Sometimes all you want to do is watch Kenneth Branagh chew scenery as Hercule Poirot. (B+)

Moonfall. Not as fun or coherent (I know, lol) as some of Emmerich’s other movies. The acting in this is…not great. (C+)

Hawkeye. Fun but I don’t know how many more Marvel things I want to keep up with. (B)

Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is always fun. (B+)

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Better than the overcomplicated sequel and Mikkelsen was a better Grindelwald than Depp. The story wrapped up so nicely that who knows if there will be a fourth movie. (B)

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Brilliant cinematography and set design. (B+)

The Batman. Oh I don’t know. I guess this was a pretty decent detective story, but I’m not sure why Batman needed to be involved. (B)

The Northman. This would have been much better had it ended 20 minutes sooner. Not sure we needed another movie that concludes with ultimately pointless violent masculine revenge. (B-)

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this. (A-)

The Mysterious Benedict Society. The kids and I enjoyed this solid adaptation of the first book of a popular series. (B+)

Armageddon. The pace of this movie is incredible — it just drops you right into the action and never stops for more than 2 hours. Also, the top question when searching this movie title on Google is “Is Armageddon movie a true story?” *sigh* (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2022

May the 4th be with you and here’s the trailer for the upcoming Disney+ series, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The story begins 10 years after the dramatic events of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” where Obi-Wan Kenobi faced his greatest defeat — the downfall and corruption of his best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the dark side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Natasha Lyonne Revisits Her Breakout Characters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2022

Today I discovered that all I want to do is listen to Natasha Lyonne talk about her experiences in showbiz. But instead I got a little more than 7 minutes and that’s just fine:

I’m a few episodes into the second season of Russian Doll right now and it’s so good.

Severance Intro with The Office Theme Song

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2022

When you think about TV shows about the workplace, The Office is likely top of mind. So, cutting an intro to new workplace darling Severance to match the visual style of The Office intro with The Office theme song was going to happen eventually…and here it is. Nicely done.

See also The Unskippable Opening Credits for Severance.

The Unskippable Opening Credits for Severance

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2022

After hearing a buzz from my social circle about Severance on Apple+, I’ve been catching up on it for the past couple of weeks. Here’s the series synopsis:

Mark leads a team of office workers whose memories have been surgically divided between their work and personal lives. When a mysterious colleague appears outside of work, it begins a journey to discover the truth about their jobs.

I’m going to reserve judgment on the show for my next media diet post, but let’s talk about the opening credits sequence by Oliver Latta. It’s fantastic, an instant edition to the Unskippable Intros Hall of Fame. Mashable talked to Latta about his process and you can see a few behind the scenes images at Behance. And check out Latta’s other animations…you can definitely see where some of the imagery in the title sequence came from.

Now, back to the Unskippable Intros Hall of Fame. For me, the opening title sequences that I never ever push the “skip intro” button on are Succession (that music!), Stranger Things (again, that music!), Halt and Catch Fire, The Wire, The Simpsons (gotta catch that couch gag), Transparent, Six Feet Under, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and The Muppet Show. What would you add to the mix?

Update: Composers of TV themes lament the rise of the “skip intro” button.

Yet there’s one thing that annoys softly spoken Britell: the “Skip intro” facility on streaming services, which was brought in five years ago and lets viewers bypass a show’s opening credits. “I am very against it,” says Britell. “TV theme music is incredibly important. It’s almost a show’s DNA identifier. It serves as an overture to bring you in and sets the tone. I think that formal entrée is crucial.”

Robust words from the man whose Emmy-winning, earwormy Succession work, with its gothic strings, cascading piano and skittering beats, is helping to revive TV theme tunes.

Impeccable Digital Recreations of TV Game Show Sets

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2022

digital recreation of the set of Jeopardy!

digital recreation of the set of The Price Is Right

digital recreation of the set of Match Game

If you, like me, grew up semi-obsessively watching game shows from the 70s and 80s, you will get a big kick out of this. Photographer Steven Rosenow makes incredibly accurate digital renderings of the sets of old game shows like Jeopardy!, The Price Is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Match Game, and Family Feud, which he shares with a Facebook group called Eyes of a Generation. David Friedman shared some of these recreations in his newsletter. Here’s Rosenow’s notes on the Price Is Right set:

This was a fairly difficult set to model in 3D even though I had blueprints of the set to work with, as well as blueprints of CBS Studio 33… Assistance in this project was provided by the current owner of Door No. 2, who bought it from CBS when it was auctioned off.

I might have a new aspiration in life: to be “the current owner of Door No. 2”. (via waxy)

Hannah Gadsby Talks About Her Autism Diagnosis

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2022

In an excerpt of her new book, Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation (out today), Hannah Gadsby talks about her later-in-life diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. As often happens whenever I read about an autistic person’s experience, there’s stuff here that really resonates with me. Like:

My meltdowns had always been a mystery to me, so when I was finally diagnosed, I was able to reframe the way I thought about my strange little outbursts. For a start, I became far more compassionate toward myself, which probably halved the distress of the occasions. In the scheme of my life, I have not had very many meltdowns, however. I’m more of a shutdown kind of autistic. From the outside, a shutdown looks very similar to a sulky tantrum, but it is nothing of the sort. I don’t have control, for a start. And I am certainly not ruminating on any kind of emotional narrative, because I have gone into fight or flight, but in my body that translates into neither fight nor flight; I just shut down like a maxed-out power grid in the middle of a storm.

And:

The problem is that communication skills are developed atypically in autistic people and, most often, very slowly. I have always had difficulty articulating my needs, but as I have got older, my language and social skills have improved a great deal. My ability to regulate, however, has not, and nor have my sensory sensitivities. My eternal struggle with these distressing disabilities often gives the impression to others that I am moody, reactive and inconsistent. I say I want one thing, then moments later I will say that I need the opposite. This is not a reflection of my character, but rather a reflection of my neurobiological functioning. I am unable to intuitively understand what I am feeling, and I can often take a much longer time to process the effects of external circumstances than neurotypical thinkers. But it is they who get impatient with me, and under that pressure I feel forced to guess my needs before I have had time to process stuff in my own way, and so mistakes are made. I can be cold and not know it. I can be hungry and not know it. I can need to go to the bathroom and not know it. I can be sad and not know it. I can feel distressed and not know it. I can be unsafe and not know it. You know how sometimes you put your hand under running water and for a brief moment you don’t know if it is hot or cold? That is every minute of my life. Being perpetually potentially unsafe is a great recipe for anxiety. And — spoiler alert — anxiety is bad.

I do not feel these things as acutely as Gadsby describes, but I do feel them — moodiness, sensory sensitivity, emotional shutdowns, difficulty understanding what I’m feeling, and taking a long time to process things. This line: “…under that pressure I feel forced to guess my needs before I have had time to process stuff in my own way, and so mistakes are made” <— woooooo boy I feel that so so much. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks to himself, this is why I’ve worked by myself for the past 16+ years.

Anyway, I loved Nanette and am looking forward to reading her “memoir situation” soon.

Succession But It’s Arrested Development

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

You might have noticed that the two families in Succession and Arrested Development share some similarities — business-focused, rich, dysfunctional, sibling rivalry. Luís Azevedo explored the likeness with this video of scenes from Succession with music & Ron Howard’s voiceover from Arrested Development. So good. Also worth a look: scenes from Arrested Development with the music from Succession.

See also The Simpsons Parody of Succession and The Succession Theme Works Over Any TV Show Title Sequence.

SNL on Amazon Go’s Grab-and-Go Shopping Experience

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2022

This short sketch from Saturday Night Live highlights how Amazon Go’s “grab-and-go” shopping experience (where you walk out of the store with your items without having to check out first) doesn’t work that well for all shoppers.

Back in 2016 when Amazon announced their new store concept, Xavier Harding wrote Amazon Go’s “just walk out” technology sounds like a headache for shoppers of color.

White people who have never been “randomly” followed around at a Walgreens may have no problem walking into a store, grabbing an item and leaving — like this guy in the Amazon Go promo video.

But shoppers of color, who already see enough unwanted attention, may have their doubts. Especially in a store where the employees are mostly there for customer service, as Amazon’s promo video suggests. They roam the store, stock shelves and hang out near shoppers.

The Hidden Secret in a Famous Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2022

The set design of The Andy Griffith Show is perhaps an odd place to start when talking about 19th century French painter Jean-François Millet, but this video hits its stride when Salvador Dali enters the picture. After viewing, you can read more about Millet’s painting The Angelus.

Benjamin Franklin: A Film by Ken Burns

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2022

A new four-hour documentary series about Benjamin Franklin by Ken Burns will premiere on PBS on April 4th. Here’s the trailer and a slightly longer, less formal teaser from Burns:

Ken Burns’s two-part, four-hour documentary, Benjamin Franklin, explores the revolutionary life of one of the 18th century’s most consequential and compelling personalities, whose work and words unlocked the mystery of electricity and helped create the United States. Franklin’s 84 years (1706-1790) spanned an epoch of momentous change in science, technology, literature, politics, and government — fields he himself advanced through a lifelong commitment to societal and self-improvement.

Also available to watch while we wait for the series is this 6-minute extended scene about Franklin, smallpox, and his son Frankie.

For more reading on the history of smallpox inoculation and its introduction to America by an enslaved African man named Onesimus, check out these two articles. (via @CharlesCMann)

My Brilliant Friend, Season Three

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2022

So, I have been waiting for months for season three of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend series (based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels) and somehow it has snuck in1 and started without me noticing! Anyway, the s03 trailer is above, the first episode aired earlier this week & is on HBO Max now, and new episodes will follow every Monday.

If you haven’t seen the show, you should check out the first two seasons first…this show is a gem and I wish HBO was doing more to promote it.

  1. I’ve logged into HBO Max like 4 times this week and it has shown me nothing about the show, even though I watched the first two seasons of it. Even now, I had to dig to find it. Algorithm, you had one job…

Star Trek Warp Jumps Through the Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2022

Along with the transporters and communicators, one of the marquee bits of technology in the Star Trek universe is the warp engine. From Star Trek: The Movie to DS9 & Voyager to Picard and Lower Decks, this video takes a look at how the warp jump special effect has changed over the years. Surprising thing I did not know: there was no warp jump special effect in the Original Series.

See also Star Trek Transporters Through the Years and In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

The Seinfeld Theme Mixed With A Hit Song From Every Year Seinfeld Was On TV

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2022

Seinfeld2000 and kottke.org favorites The Hood Internet teamed up to make this video of the Seinfeld theme song mixed with a song from every year the show was on the air. So: Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, Bulls on Parade by Rage Against the Machine, and Around the World by Daft Punk. Genius. I could not love this anymore than I do.

See also Darth Costanza and How the Seinfeld Theme Song Was Made. (via waxy)

The Green Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2022

The Green Planet is a new 5-part nature series from the BBC and David Attenborough that focuses on the Earth’s plant life.

Using specialist cameras, this spectacular series allows us to travel beyond the power of the human eye, to look closer at the interconnected world of plants, showcasing over two decades of new discoveries. From deserts, tropical jungles and underwater worlds to seasonal lands and our own urban environment, each episode introduces a set of plants, reveals the battles they face, and the ingenious ways they’ve found to survive.

The trailer is above and here are some clips and behind-the-scenes looks at what it takes to capture some of these incredible scenes.

The Green Planet has already started airing in Britain on BBC, but we won’t be able to see it here in the US until July on PBS.

My Recent Media Diet, the Belated End of 2021 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

“Recent” is increasingly becoming a lie with these media diet posts…the last one I did was back on Sept 13, right before my life went to hell in a handcart for a couple of months.1 So let’s get to it: a list of short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV shows, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) in the last few months of 2021 (as well as a few 2022 items). As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades — they are subjective and inconsistent. Oh and some of this stuff might have already popped up in my end-of-2021 review, but I’ll try and say something different about them here.

The Great British Baking Show. I already covered this in the last media diet (and the year-end review), but I wanted to include it here as well because it’s become a real favorite. Rahul 4eva! (A)

Project Hail Mary. After my whole family read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, I had to read it too. And……it was alright. I guess I don’t quite get the acclaim for this book — reminded me of a sci-fi Da Vinci Code. Looking forward to the movie being better. (B)

The French Dispatch. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums? (A)

The Hunger Games. I watched all four movies in this series because I needed something familiar and also mindless to switch my brain off. (B+)

Ted Lasso (season two). Not quite as good as the first season and definitely not as beloved because they had some new ground to cover, but I enjoyed the season as a whole. And put me down as a fan of the Coach Beard Rumspringa episode. (A-)

Izakaya Minato. I don’t exactly know what it was about this meal, but I’m still thinking about it more than 3 months later. Really fresh, clean, creative food. (A)

Magnus on Water. Amazing cocktails, great service, and the outdoor seating area was just right. (A-)

The Lost Daughter. Gah, so good! Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley are all fantastic and the direction and cinematography (all those tight, almost suffocating shots) were just great. Gonna be thinking about this one for awhile. (A+)

Therapy. I’ve got more to say about this at some point, but I’ve been seeing a therapist since September and it’s been really helpful. (A)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I enjoyed this quite a bit, more than Black Widow or The Eternals (haven’t seen latest Spidey yet). (B+)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack. Really, really good — been blasting this in the car a lot lately. (A)

Dune. Felt good to see a serious blockbuster in the theater again. And to be able to rewatch it on HBO Max a couple of weeks later. (A-)

Ravine. I’ve only played this a couple of times with the kids, but it got high marks all around for fun and quick rounds. (B+)

The Power of the Dog. A slow burn with a great payoff. Wonderful cast & direction. (A)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I loved the first half of this book — lots of pithy observations about social media. (B+)

Don’t Look Up. Everyone is comparing this to Dr Strangelove and while it’s not quite on that level, it certainly does some of the same things for climate change that DS did for nuclear war. (A)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut. A super interesting mix of historical fact and narrative fiction about the swift technological changes that took place in the early 20th century that altered history in small and large ways. (A-)

Wingspan. Bought this game after reading Dan Kois’ review and our family has been enjoying it. (B+)

Pirates of the Caribbean. Still fun. I remember being very skeptical before seeing this for the first time back when it came out, but as soon as Jack Sparrow stepped off his sinking ship right onto the dock, I knew it was going to be good. (A-)

Clear and Present Danger. I don’t actually remember watching much of this…must have switched off my brain too much. (-)

Spies in Disguise. I read the plot synopsis of this on Wikipedia and I still don’t remember watching any of it. I think the kids liked it? (-)

The Courier. Solid spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a true story. (B+)

Finch. Charming but nothing much actually happens? (B)

Eternals. Now that the Infinity Saga is done, I’m not sure how much interest I’m going to have in some of these new characters & storylines. (B)

Mad Max Fury Road. Seventh rewatch? Eighth? I just plain love this movie. (A)

No Time to Die. I am not really a James Bond fan but I liked this one. (B+)

Succession (season three). This got off to a bit of a slow, meandering start, but the last few episodes were just fantastic. (A)

Omicron variant. You think you’re out but they keep pulling you back in. (F-)

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton. Thought the water was going to glow as I swam through it, but it was more like sparkly fireworks. Magical. (A)

Xolo Tacos. We stumbled in here for dinner after nothing else looked good and were rewarded with the best tacos on Holbox. The carne asada taco might be the best taco I’ve had in years and we ended up ordering a second round. (A)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I liked this one slightly less than her first two novels. But only slightly. (A-)

Free Guy. Fun entrant into the video game movie genre. (B+)

Hacks. It was fine but ultimately didn’t understand why so many people on my timeline were raving about this. (B+)

NY Times Crossword app. I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but the Times app does all the fiddly work (e.g. of finding the current clue’s boxes, etc.) for me so I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe into the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. But the Minis and Spelling Bee are where it’s at for me. (B+)

The Hunt for Red October. Still a great thriller. (A-)

Avatar: The Last Airbender. After watching The Legend of Korra, the kids and I went back to watch Avatar. The first season and a half is kinda uneven, but overall we really liked it. The beach episode has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on television and the one where Aang is hallucinating from the lack of sleep made my kids laugh so hard I thought they were going to pass out. (A-)

The Matrix Resurrections. I am someone who didn’t dislike the second and third Matrix movies as much as everyone else seemed to, and so it is with this one as well. Wish I could have seen this in the theater, but Omicron. (A-)

The Wrong Trousers. The last five minutes is still maybe the best chase scene in movie history. (A)

Preview of the next media diet: I am enjoying the hell out of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, want to read The Lost Daughter, just started the last season of The Expanse, listening to the audiobook version of Exhalation, want to check out Station Eleven on HBO Max, and plan on watching Pig, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. Oh, and I need to dig into the second seasons of The Great and For All Mankind. And more GBBO! We’ll see how much of that I actually follow through on…

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. Nothing serious, I am embarrassed to say. I just got really into the weeds with a number of things and I kinda fell to pieces.

Jon Hamm Narrates Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Updated for the Timeline Era

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

In Plato’s allegory of the cave (part of his The Republic), the reader/listener is asked to imagine people trapped in a cave whose only experience of the outside world is observing shadows cast by people outside the cave, which becomes their reality. In this clip from the TV show Legion narrated by Jon Hamm, Plato’s allegory is extended to our present age, where we’re mediated by devices and social media algorithms into individualized shadowy caves of our own.

Now, what if instead of being in a cave, you were out in the world — except you couldn’t see it because you trusted that the world you saw through the prism was the real world. But there’s a difference. You see, unlike the allegory of the cave where the people are real and the shadows are false, here other people are the shadows, their faces, their lives.

(via open culture)

Bel-Air, a Dramatic Reboot of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

Three years ago, cinematographer and director Morgan Cooper uploaded a fan-made trailer for a gritty reboot/retelling of the 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It caught the attention of Will Smith, who decided to give Cooper the go-ahead to develop his idea into a series. And now the first trailer of that series, Bel-Air, has dropped. Looks great…I’m going to watch.

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2021

From executive producer Adam McKay (who also directed the first episode) comes a glitzy HBO series about the Lakers’ NBA dynasty in the 80s called Winning Time. It’s based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. The casting looks great — Adrien Brody as Pat Riley is particularly fitting.

Winning Time was also the last straw in the disintegration of the creative partnership between McKay and Will Ferrell. From a recent profile of McKay in Vanity Fair:

McKay had been making an HBO limited series about the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in the 1980s based on the book Showtime and Ferrell, a huge Lakers fan, had his heart set on the role of Jerry Buss, the legendary ’80s-era team owner. After Gary Sanchez dissolved, however, the Lakers show moved under McKay’s new production banner, Hyperobject Industries. And Ferrell, it turns out, was never McKay’s first choice. “The truth is, the way the show was always going to be done, it’s hyperrealistic,” he says. “And Ferrell just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss. And there were some people involved who were like, ‘We love Ferrell, he’s a genius, but we can’t see him doing it.’ It was a bit of a hard discussion.”

The person McKay wanted for Buss was John C. Reilly, who looks more like the real thing, and who is Ferrell’s best friend. McKay hesitated. “Didn’t want to hurt his feelings,” he says flatly. “Wanted to be respectful.”

In the end he cast Reilly in the role anyway-without telling Ferrell first. Ferrell was infuriated. “I should have called him and I didn’t,” says McKay. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.”

Winning Time debuts in March 2022.

A Ted Lasso Animated Short: The Missing Christmas Mustache

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2021

Well this is a nice little holiday boost: a four-minute animated short with Ted Lasso and the gang called The Missing Christmas Mustache.

Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2021

This pitch-perfect SNL commercial featuring Kate McKinnon & Billie Eilish advertises the bland budget business-ish hotel that can be found all across America.

Our rooms provide every comfort required by law: tiny soap in plastic, phone that blinks, Band-Aid-colored blanket, chair for suitcase, black & white photo of Ferris wheel, blow dryer that goes oooooooh, short glass wearing little hat, and small stain in place you have to touch.

And be sure to enjoy our hot tub; it’s always occupied by an eight-year-old boy in goggles staring at your breasts. He’s been in there for hours and he’s not getting out until you do.

I have stayed at this precise hotel many times in the past and I will again in the future. C+++++.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2021

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, a documentary about the beloved show’s first two decades, debuts today on HBO Max. The film is based on Michael Davis’s 2009 book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.

The documentary focuses on the first two experimental and groundbreaking decades of Sesame Street, highlighting this visionary “gang” that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and engaged children with innovative new ways to entertain and educate.

Featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with over twenty original cast members and creators, the documentary explores how the team incorporated groundbreaking puppetry, clever animation, short films, music, humor, and cultural references into each episode to keep kids and parents coming back, while never shying away from difficult conversations with children.

In a review, NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says the film reminds us that Sesame Street was political right from the beginning:

“Sesame Street,” which premiered in 1969, was the project of Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV executive who was originally more interested in the civil rights movement than in education but came to see the connection between the two. “The people who control the system read,” she once said, “and the people who make it in the system read.” And she believed that the best way to get the kids of the 1960s to read, paradoxically, was through TV.

Her Children’s Television Workshop brought together educators and entertainers, including a puppeteer named Jim Henson and the director Jon Stone, an idealist attracted to Cooney’s idea of closing the literacy gap for inner-city Black children. “I think what drew Dad in really had to do with her political vision,” his daughter Kate Stone Lucas says in the documentary.

The Dutch Angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

These days, movies, TV shows, and even commercials all use something called the Dutch angle,1 a filmmaking technique where the camera is angled to produce a tilted scene, often to highlight that something is not quite right. The technique originated in Germany, inspired by Expressionist painters.

It was pioneered by German directors during World War I, when outside films were blocked from being shown in Germany. Unlike Hollywood, which was serving up largely glamorous, rollicking films, the German film industry took inspiration from the Expressionist movement in art and literature, which was focused on processing the insanity of world war. Its themes touched on betrayal, suicide, psychosis, and terror. And Expressionist films expressed that darkness not just through their plotlines, but their set designs, costumes… and unusual camera shots.

This got me thinking about my favorite shot from Black Panther, this camera roll in the scene where Killmonger takes the Wakandan throne:

It’s the Dutch angle but even more dynamic and it blew me away the first time I saw it. I poked around a little to see if this particular move had been done before (if director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison were referencing something specific) and I found Christopher Nolan (although I’d argue that he uses it in a slightly different way) and Stranger Things (in the scene starting at 1:33). Anywhere else?

  1. As with Pennsylvania Dutch, the Dutch in Dutch angle is a bastardization of Deutsch (German).

David Fincher’s VOIR

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted about David Fincher’s new project with Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s not a third season of Mindhunter. But, here’s what it is: a 6-episode series of visual essays about movies and filmmaking, not unlike the YouTube videos I post here all the time (many of which you can find under the film school tag).

VOIR is a series of visual essays celebrating Cinema and the personal connection we each have to the stories we see on the big screen. From intimate personal histories to insights on character and craft, each episode reminds us why Cinema holds a special place in our lives.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting are contributing to at least one of these visual essays, so that right here is reason enough to rejoice. VOIR drops Dec 6 on Netflix.

The Simpsons Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

Lisa Simpson holding a book called Tales of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Sister

Lisa Simpson holding a book about The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson reading a book called Backdoors to Citizenship

Marge Simpson reading a book called Love in the Time of Scurvy

The Simpsons Library Instagram account has been documenting all of the books, magazines, and other printed matter that has appeared on the long-running sitcom.

Trailer for Season Two of The Great

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

Oh, I’m excited for this one. I’m not saying The Great was the best show I’ve seen over the past couple of years, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and enjoyable. A synopsis:

The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. A fictionalized, fun and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside.

The Great was created by Tony McNamara, who co-wrote The Favourite — both have the same punchy, ribald dialogue. You can catch up on season one on Hulu while we wait for the season two premiere on Nov 19.

The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.

The Most Important Device in the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

You’ve probably seen it: a dual-tubed generator console that’s appeared in movies and TV shows like Star Trek (all of them, pretty much), Knight Rider, V, Austin Powers, The Last Starfighter, and even Airplane II. This prop was originally built in the 70s and in the decades since has been placed in scenes requiring an impressive piece of high-tech equipment. The video above is a compilation of scenes in which the console has appeared (parts two & three of the compilation).

Watch A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain’s First Travel/Food TV Show, for Free Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

After Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, I listened to the audiobook version of his fantastic Kitchen Confidential (read by Bourdain himself) and in retrospect, the trip he took to Tokyo documented in one of the final chapters was a clear indication that his career was headed away from the kitchen and out into the world. His long-time producer Lydia Tenaglia saw this too…she cold-called him after reading the book and pitched him on doing a TV show called A Cook’s Tour, where the intrepid Bourdain would travel to different locations around the world to experience the food culture there.

I met him at a point in his life where he had never really traveled before. He had written a book, Kitchen Confidential, and I had read somewhere that he was going to try to write a follow-up book called A Cook’s Tour. I approached him — I kind of cold-called him — and I said, “Listen, I work in television.” And at that point I was freelancing for other companies as a producer and a shooter and an editor. I called Tony, and he was still working in a kitchen at the time, and I said, “Would you mind if me and my husband, Chris, came and shot a short demo and we try to sort of pitch the idea of A Cook’s Tour — meaning you traveling the world, kind of exploring the way other people eat — as a television series?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” I don’t think he had any expectations at that point. Again, he hadn’t really traveled.

A Cook’s Tour intrigued the folks at the Food Network and the show ended up running for 35 episodes over two seasons. And they are now all available to watch for free on YouTube. I’ve embedded the first episode above, where he goes (back) to Tokyo, but he also visits Vietnam, San Sebastian, Oaxaca, Scotland, Singapore, and Brazil during the show’s run. More from Tenaglia on how the show came about:

So that was the start of our relationship and our time together. We, fortunately, were able to pitch and sell that idea, A Cook’s Tour, to the Food Network. Me and Chris, my husband, and Tony, just the three of us, all went out on the road together for that first year, and we shot 23 episodes of A Cook’s Tour, and we kind of figured out the format of the show on the road. It was really Tony tapping into the references he did have — you know, films and books and things he had seen and knew about only through film and reading.

So he was able to bring all of those cultural references to the table, and the three of us together were able to kind of play with the format of what those visuals would look like, so that it wasn’t just about him eating food at a restaurant. It was really about everything that was happening around him — or the thoughts he was having internally as he had these experiences or the references that he had seen through film that he loved and books that he had read, like The Quiet American, and how those things related to what he was experiencing.

So it became this kind of sort of moving, evolving format that was very much based on, predicated on the location that we were in and those references that he could call up. The show just kind of began to take shape. I mean, really there was no format of the show going into it. We just said, “Hey, we’re going to travel around the world, and this guy … he’s a chef, and he’s written this great book, and he’s going to try food in other countries.” And that’s what sold the project to the Food Network at the time. Then, as we went and actually made the show, we really started to play with the format and turned it into something else.

I would say that 17 years later the show has gone through various iterations. We did the two seasons of A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network, and then we did eight seasons of No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and now we’re on Parts Unknown. And the show has evolved as Tony has evolved, as the crew has evolved, as the technology has evolved. The show has sort of turned into this kind of, you know, one man’s initial foray into the world, and I think today, 17 years later, he’s really kind of evolved into more of a cultural anthropologist.

The show’s very sociopolitical — it’s about people and characters. The food and the people are just the entry point. It’s really about all the context around it. The more you can bring story to that and the more you can bring references to that — film references … character references — the more you can introduce interesting, unique characters into the equation, I think that’s what keeps the show very fresh and why it’s continuing to evolve all these years later. Each show is very different from the one before it.

It’s fun to watch the prototype of what eventually became a very beloved and different show. (via open culture)